Naked Series: John Laurie Wallace
Circle of Thomas Eakins, American, 1844 - 1916
Photographs of nude models served as an indispensable tool in Thomas Eakins's artistic and academic practice. Eakins became an active proponent of photography during the late nineteenth century, using the new medium to make images that enhanced his already sophisticated understanding of the human form.
Sequential photographs of the front, back, and sides of unclothed models produced by Eakins and his students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, during the early 1880s, demonstrated the weight distribution and shape of the upright human body. Later, while teaching at the Philadelphia Art Students' League, Eakins created single pictures of nude men and women modeling in standing and seated positions. Although these camera-made compositions were used for study purposes and were not conceived as works of art for public exhibition, the careful consideration of pose, composition, and lighting demonstrates Eakins's ever-present attention to aesthetics.
The photographs of nude men and women made by Eakins and his circle during the 1880s proved highly controversial, particularly because the artist sometimes used his students-and even himself-as models. This bold crossing of nineteenth-century boundaries of propriety contributed to his contentious relationship with, and eventual dismissal from, the Pennsylvania Academy. To this day, these beautiful yet culturally complex photographs of unclothed models both illuminate and raise questions about the role of photography in Eakins's art.